SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Bargain-hunters snatched up watches confiscated from criminals, surplus prison shirts and antique pianos salvaged from parks on the first day of a statewide garage sale to scrape together cash for California.
The two-day sale kicked off Friday at a Sacramento warehouse, with hundreds lining up for deals on cars, computers and collectibles. Many arrived hours before the gate opened at 8 a.m., walking past a "Terminator" mannequin on the way in.
An auctioneer sold vehicles by the minute under a crowded tent in the parking lot behind the warehouse. SUVs, vans and California Highway Patrol cruisers – all were being moved off the state's inventory for just a few thousand dollars each.
"Welcome to our garage sale," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told reporters during a tour of the warehouse. "As you know, we're trying to raise some extra money here, getting rid of the old stuff we don't use anymore."
Schwarzenegger decided to clear some of the state's clutter after ordering the state's fleet of 40,000 vehicles cut by 15 percent. The celebrity governor added his autograph to 15 car visors and four patrol motorcycles in hopes of fetching more money.
State officials are hoping the sale of 600 state-owned vehicles and 6,000 pieces of office furniture, computers, electronics and other items will raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. Their expectations were exceeded Friday when the first day's sales reached an estimated $1 million, said State and Consumer Services Agency spokeswoman Erin Shaw. The sale ends Saturday.
At the time Schwarzenegger signed the order, California faced a projected $26 billion deficit. The state has since passed a budget with billions of dollars in cuts to schools and colleges, prisons and health care for the poor.
The governor, making an appearance before going to Boston to attend memorial services for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, greeted shoppers in line to pay for computer parts, printers and office furniture. He thanked them for showing support for California and slipped on a leather jacket with the governor's seal for a photo op. The Schwarzenegger-signed jacket was put on eBay with a $1,000 starting bid.
Brian Wallace, 61, a systems administrator for a nonprofit in Sacramento, waited to buy a box of video conference equipment.
"This box is $23, and I'm sure I'll get more than $23 worth of usable parts out of it," Wallace said. "If that camera works alone, it's probably worth $150 to $200."
While many shoppers were looking for practical items, others were on the hunt for collectibles. The state was clearing out some items that had been sitting in storage for years. The Department of Motor Vehicles towed out eight vintage scales that doubled as fortune teller machines.
"The vendor was expecting the state to buy a whole bunch and they never did," Shaw said. "They were in storage but now they're out for sale about $150 apiece."
Also up for sale: surplus prison shirts and jeans for $5 and office chairs for $10.
John Hart, 43, of Sacramento pounced on an extra set of wheels. He won the auction on a 2002 Buick Century for $3,100 – probably several thousand cheaper than book value, he figured. Plus, he said, he felt confident the Buick would ride well.
"Being government vehicles, they're pretty much well-maintained," said Hart, who plans to give his existing Buick to his son when he turns 18 later this year.
The state says all the vehicles are in working condition. Most have more than 100,000 miles.
Schwarzenegger's signatures didn't necessarily translate into more profit for the state. People trying to buy used BMW motorcycles for $2,200 objected when state officials tried to raise the price on four governor-signed vehicles by $800 each.
"It's graffiti," said Los Gatos resident Alex Wingate of the governor's signature.
The state eventually backed down and Wingate got to buy one of the highway patrol's old bikes at the originally set price.
The money will go to California's general fund. Hart said he would rather have seen it go to state workers who have been furloughed three days a month because of the deficit. The mandatory off days resulted in an effective 14 percent pay cut for 200,000 workers.